Hinduism in Modern Secular Society

Project Directors

Ace V. Simpson
Alan C. Herbert

Project

Hindus, their communities, and their traditions face a wide variety of sociological challenges in assimilating into or avoiding modern secular societies. Underpinning these tensions is the fact that Hindus live and work in the world while simultaneously maintaining a separation from it. Sociological issues they may encounter include, among other things, those of identity, value, affiliation, and ethnicity. This project aims to increase the latitude of Indian studies to incorporate these social experiences of contemporary Hindu communities and adherents as they navigate life within, without, and on the fringes of their religious institutions and host communities. The project looks to redress the paucity of research into the key causes of these tensions while also identifying opportunities for dialogue and conflict resolution. 

Research methods include but are not limited to standard sociological tools, such as surveys (interviews and questionnaires), field work, participant observation, case studies, experiments, ethnographies, and secondary data analysis.  The research is theory-rich and multi-disciplinary, incorporating, for instance, philosophy, theology, and philology. Rather than produce data and ethnographies, the research blends experience with theory so as to illuminate trends and tensions affecting the societal lives of present and former adherents as well as the Hindu traditions themselves. 

The project facilitates scholarly research on social issues among Hindus, discourse and productive interaction with and between all types of Hindu tradition and practitioner, and the developing of studies and proposals that can assist governance and policy. Among the important issues that this project addresses are social cohesion, social integration, and social identity. Examples of the kinds of issues explored are: the roles and problems of Hindu run schools, challenges in the reintegration of former resident nuns and monks into wider society, religious fundamentalism, the concerns of youth, and Hindu perceptions and responses to racism, sexism, social inequality, climate change, consumerism, and other current social conflicts.

Proposed Outcomes

The project contributes to: 

  • Sociological research on religious institutions, practitioners, and communities
  • The internal management and dialogue of the institutions themselves with regard to:
    • The care of their members.
    • Strategies to help maintain and develop ethical standards.
  • The promotion of theory-rich social studies on Hindu religious institutions.
  • The development of methodologies for further sociological research.

Key Deliverables

The timeline of the project is initially three-years, after which it will be reviewed.

The proposed outcomes and events for the first year are to:

  • Two journal articles.
  • A conference and published edited volume of the papers presented.
  • Online resource documenting academic research papers, videos and news reports that highlight the experiences and practices of Hindu practitioners and communities in contemporary society 
  • Database of scholars exploring social issues in Hinduism as well as those analysing similar issues in other religious traditions.

Schedule

Current Project: The Resocialization into Wider Society of Former Hindu Ashram Members. Our research question is: in which senses do former full-time residential ashram members of a Hindu tradition, specifically non-Indian converts that lived in ashramas in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand, manage identity reconstruction, societal reintegration, and member affiliation after leaving full-time membership? We have presently completed two thirds of our intended semi-structured interviews with former nuns and monks. This project will yield a journal article that will also be presented to the tradition.

Conference: On challenges associated with Hindu identity, values, traditions, ethnicity and community in tension with modern secular society and social life.

Contact information

Ace V. Simpson
T +44 1895 265899 | E ace.simpson@brunel.ac.uk
Brunel University London

Alan C. Herbert
T +44 7463 138252 | E alan@ochs.org.uk
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies